Protecting Our Waters: Cruise Ship Discharge Regulations
Seattle's thriving cruise industry presents a unique challenge: balancing economic growth with environmental responsibility. Like any land-based activity, cruises generate waste as part of their daily operation. In an effort to protect this region's marine environment, the Port has played a significant role in ensuring that cruise lines understand all environmental laws and regulations applicable to Washington state.
International and National Regulations
On an international level, environmental processes are governed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) policies and procedures for the maritime industry. In the United States, the federal government requires compliance with the IMO and the Coast Guard has local jurisdiction over cruise ship discharges. Additionally, Washington State's Department of Ecology enforces water quality regulations.
Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)
The Port of Seattle, Washington State's Department of Ecology, and Cruise Lines International Association North West & Canada (CLIA-NWC) signed a voluntary agreement, called a memorandum of understanding (MOU), for cruise ships to help prevent wastewater discharge into state waters. The first MOU was signed on April 20, 2004. In the 2023 MOU updates, CLIA was removed as a signatory and member cruise lines were added.
- Bans wastewater discharges to Washington state waters from all cruise ships
- Except discharges treated with advanced wastewater treatment systems (AWTS)
- Allows us to inspect the wastewater treatment systems on each vessel
- Requires cruise lines to sample and monitor wastewater discharges from their ships
The waters subject to the MOU include Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca south of the international boundary with Canada; along Washington’s Pacific Coast extending three miles seaward; and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.
Funded by participating cruise lines, the MOU plays a vital role in safeguarding our delicate marine ecosystems. While not a replacement for legal regulations, it exemplifies the Port's and cruise lines' shared commitment to environmental stewardship.